Game of Thrones Lore: Aegon's Conquest and the Reign of the Targaryens
I've mentioned before that despite numerous differences between the novels in A Song of Ice and Fire and HBO's adaptation to Game of Thrones, I'm a huge fan of the show. I think they do a great job supplying some of the extensive detail of the massive fantasy world George R.R. Martin created. They also include references to book material, which is highly satisfying for us readers and gives me ample opportunity to babble endlessly to unsuspecting friends who ask simple questions about the show. Attempting to itemize every detail from the main novels and other source material is best left to Wikis (yes, plural; there's one for the books and another for the show), but there's good and potentially useful information to be gained from events occurring before or outside of the show's scope.
With that in mind, let's embark on a (relatively) brief journey through the history of Westeros and Essos. We've already covered the early history, and now we'll be diving into Aegon's Conquest and the Reign of the Targaryens, with Robert's Rebellion looming on the horizon. Everyone ready? Greensight powers, activate!
Twelve years before the Doom of Valyria, Aenar Targaryen's daughter Daenys saw Valyria consumed in flames in a vision. Heeding the dream, Aenar moved his family across the Narrow Sea to Dragonstone, where the Targaryens ruled as lords for five generations. When Aegon I came of age, he married both of his sisters, Visenya and Rhaenys; incest was common among the Targaryens and their ancestors, and multiple wives was only mildly unusual. Soon after, he turned his attention west, towards the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros and their rulers:
- The North - Torrhen Stark of Winterfell, descended from Bran the Builder during the Age of Heroes
- The Riverlands - Harren Hoare, ruling from his newly constructed castle, Harrenhal, hailing from the Iron Islands
- The Vale - Ronnel Arryn, a child, and his mother Sharra in the Eyrie, descended from Andal king Hugor of the Hill
- The Westerlands - Loren Lannister of Casterly Rock, descended from Lann the Clever
- The Reach - Mern Gardener of Highgarden, descended from Garth Greenhand
- The Stormlands - Argilac Durrandon, of Storm's End, descended from Durran Godsgrief
- Dorne - Meria Martell, of Sunspear, descended from Mors Martell and Princess Nymeria of the Rhoynar
Aegon Targaryen sent ravens to these houses declaring himself the sole King of Westeros. Those who swore allegiance would retain their lands and titles, but fire and blood would come to any who opposed. His conquest began with the annexation of the lands around the mouth of the Blackwater, where Aegon established what would become King's Landing.
From here he divided his forces in three, simultaneously sending troops south towards Storm's End, north towards the Eyrie, and northeast towards Harrenhal. Despite inferior numbers, Aegon, his sisters, and their dragons were enough to overwhelm their foes. One by one the Kings surrendered or perished: the Tullys of Riverrun succeeded the Hoares as Lords of the Riverlands after Aegon and Balerion ended Harren's line; Aegon's childhood friend, Orys Baratheon, took the Stormlands after defeating Argilac Durrandon; the Tyrells surrendered Highgarden to Aegon after King Mern and his sons were killed; Loren Lannister surrendered after a battle against all three Targaryens and their dragons called the Field of Fire; Torrhen Stark spared his people by bending the knee; Ronnel and Sharra Arryn surrendered peacefully to Visenya after she landed her dragon, Vhagar, in the Eyrie. Only Dorne remained independent, and would for hundreds of years.
The Reign of the Targaryens
Upon completing his conquest, Aegon raised King's Landing into a formidable city of its own and established many now-familiar traditions, including the Kingsguard, the small council, and the office of Hand of the King. The Targaryens who followed Aegon the Conqueror were, naturally, inconsistent. Here are some of note:
Maegor I "the Cruel"
Maegor I was the third Targaryen King of Westeros, and his nickname was well-earned. While serving as Hand of the King to his brother, Aenys Targaryen, Maegor secretly took a second wife. Though Aegon I had done the same, this action increased tension between the Faith (who disapproved of incest and polygamy) and the Crown. Aenys exiled Maegor, who returned to King's Landing with a vengeance after his brother's death. He immediately took action against the Faith Militant and narrowly prevailed in a trial of seven (a melee with seven fighters on each side) but fell into a coma soon after. Waking up nearly a month later, Maegor mounted Balerion and set fire to the Sept of Remembrance, reigniting a war that would last decades. Even construction of the Red Keep ended in violence; after adding labyrinths of tunnels, passages, and trapdoors and feasting the workers, Maegor executed every one to protect the Keep's secrets. After three more bloody years, many lords of Westeros joined the Faith Militant in supporting Jaeharys (Maegor's nephew)'s claim. Short on allies, Maegor was found dead on the Iron Throne with slashes on both arms.
Show Notes: The Red Keep's Secrets
Jaeharys I "the Conciliator"
Crowned King of Westeros at the age of 14, Jaeharys quickly set about mending the rifts dividing the Seven Kingdoms. He chose Septon Barth as his Hand, and ruled for 55 years, 46 with his sister and Queen, Alysanne. During this time, he applied a uniform set of laws across the Seven Kingdoms, built a network of sewers and wells in King's Landing, and built the roads connecting the great cities of Westeros. Most impressively, Jaeharys and Septon Barth forged a peace with the Faith. King Jaeharys agreed to protect the Faith in exchange for the disbandment of the Faith Militant.
Show Notes: The Faith Militant
Aegon II and the Dance of the Dragons
Despite his father, King Viserys's, preference for his older half-sister Rhaenyra, Aegon II claimed the Iron Throne when Viserys passed. The ensuing strife would come to be known as the Dance of the Dragons. This civil war greatly diminished the power of House Targaryen and hastened the extinction of their dragons; five dragons were killed in one night when a preacher known as the Shepherd led a mob in storming the Dragonpit in King's Landing, where Targaryen dragons were chained when not in use. Of 17 dragons involved in the Dance, only four survived. The realm was split between the two claimants, and only Dorne was left untouched. Aegon II only briefly outlived Rhaenyra before being poisoned by his own men, who saw their enemies closing in and wished to end the war.
Baelor I "the Blessed"
Baelor I assumed the crown after his older brother, Daeron, was killed attempting to solidify the control he had only recently (and for the first time in history) secured over Dorne. After forgiving those responsible for Daeron's murder, King Baelor walked barefoot from King's Landing to Sunspear (seat of the Martells) to forge a lasting peace with a unifying marriage. On his return to King's Landing, Baelor stopped to rescue his cousin, Aemon the Dragonknight, from imprisonment. He crossed a pit of vipers to free Aemon and took nearly a year to recover from the wounds he sustained. Upon returning to his throne, King Baelor became progressively more devout and caused great consternation by outlawing prostitution and refusing to marry or produce an heir. He died after a long fit of fasting, passing the crown to his uncle, Viserys II.
Aegon IV "the Unworthy"
Aegon IV's reign was noteworthy not for word or deed, but rather his prodigious appetites and the turmoil they produced. Aegon was a glutton and a womanizer, and on his death bed he legitimized every one of his bastard children. Predictably, this act led to years of unrest and bloodshed.
Daeron II "the Good" and Bloodraven
Succeeding his father Aegon IV, Daeron attempted to maintain the peace and forge positive relationships with his half-brothers. By furthering peace with Dorne through favorable terms, however, King Daeron made some of the other great lords of Westeros uneasy. These lords and others convinced Daemon Blackfyre, one of Aegon the Unworthy's recently legitimized sons, to challenge the throne. This plot set off the First Blackfyre Rebellion. Many notable battles were fought, but the uprising came to an end at the Redgrass Field. Another of Aegon IV's bastards, Brynden "Bloodraven" Rivers, brought down Daemon and two of his sons with the help of his archers, the Raven's Teeth, and the battle was soon won. After Daeron died during a great plague, Bloodraven went on to serve as Hand of the King to his successor, Aerys I, and then Aerys's brother, Maekar I. During this time he created a vast network of spies and was rumored to dabble in sorcery. It's impossible to know if he had already begun practicing the greensight he'd later train Bran Stark in, but his resources allowed him to thwart numerous Blackfyre plots. When Maekar died, Bloodraven called a Great Council to determine the next ruler of Westeros. While the lords debated their options (including Maester Aemon), the Hand invited the exiled Aenys Blackfyre to put forth his claim, but had him seized and executed upon arrival. Though a potent deterrent to further challengers, the deception in this act led to Bloodraven's trial and journey to join the Night's Watch.
Show Notes: The Three-Eyed Raven
Aegon V "the Unlikely"
King Aegon allowed Bloodraven to take the black, but soon found himself facing other problems. A long winter and a Fourth Blackfyre Rebellion were his first challenges, but more difficult was the resistance he faced from Westerosi nobility. Having spent much of his childhood amongst the common people, many of the king's acts directly benefited peasants at the expense of their lords. These rifts widened as his sons chose brides for love instead of politics, and Aegon V quickly found himself short of negotiating leverage. In the later years of his reign, he became obsessed with bringing dragons back into the world, an attempt at which may have led to the conflagration at Summerhall that killed King Aegon and many of his friends and family.
Aerys II "the Mad King"
Aerys was crowned after the brief, three-year reign of his father, Jaeharys II. Determined from a young age to leave behind a great legacy, he quickly named men of his own generation to his court. One of these men, Tywin Lannister, became the youngest-ever Hand of the King. Though great friends at first, Aerys began to resent Tywin as rumors spread of Tywin's disproportionate influence on the prosperity of Westeros. As his bitterness grew, Aerys began to openly contradict Tywin at every opportunity. Aerys's cruel remarks towards Tywin's wife Joanna, both during the Anniversary Tourney of 272 AC and after she died giving birth to Tyrion the next year, served as the final straw. Tywin served as Hand of the King from Casterly Rock from that point on, while King Aerys began demonstrating greater signs of the madness that would define his reign. His descent was hastened with his capture and imprisonment during the Defiance of Duskendale. Lord Denys Darklyn, a minor lord, wished to secure a special charter for his house. When King Aerys came to hear his petition, he was seized and imprisoned for half a year. With Lord Darklyn growing more desperate in negotiations with Tywin, Ser Barristan Selmy offered to lead a solo rescue mission. Miraculously, Barristan the Bold succeeded, scaling the walls of Duskendale barehanded and fighting his way to safety with Aerys in tow. The King was scarred by his imprisonment, however, and he grew more cruel and impulsive. During this time, he enlisted Varys as master of whisperers and commissioned a Guild of Alchemists to produce large quantities of wildfire, which he used for executions. Tywin resigned as Hand of the King after Aerys deprived him of his heir by naming Jaime Lannister to the Kingsguard, with a formal ceremony to come.
The Tourney at Harrenhal
Lord Walter Whent declared a great tourney in honor of his daughter's nameday in the year 281 AC. The prizes and the tourney itself were impressively opulent for a man of Lord Whent's means, leading many to believe the motivation and financing came from other sources. One suspect was Prince Rhaegar Targaryen, the king's son, who may have hoped to convene with the other lords of Westeros to discuss plans for managing Aerys's decline. The Tourney began with Jaime's formal induction into the Kingsguard and ended in a victory for Rhaegar, who surprised everyone by naming Lyanna Stark the tourney's "queen of love and beauty" instead of his own wife. Offending the Starks and Baratheons (Lyanna was betrothed to Robert Baratheon) brought the festivities to an awkward end. Soon after, Rhaegar and his friends absconded with Lyanna, sparking further outrage. Rickard Stark, Lord of Winterfell, and his son Brandon went to King's Landing to demand Lyanna's return. King Aerys responded by burning Rickard alive while Brandon was systematically choked to death by his efforts to save his father. Aerys then demanded Lord Jon Arryn execute Robert Baratheon and Brandon's younger brother, Eddard, to complete his justice.
The Mad King's actions following the Tourney at Harrenhal sent ripples through Westeros, culminating in a declaration of war by Jon Arryn, Robert Baratheon, and Ned Stark. Banners were called in Winterfell, the Eyrie, and Storm's End, and Robert's Rebellion would end the Reign of the Targaryens in Westeros after nearly three hundred years.
Thanks for checking out our expanded Game of Thrones content! We'll be recapping episodes weekly during the season and tracking the results of our drinking game as we go. If you have specific questions or would like more information about particular topics, please comment below or reach out to us on our facebook, twitter, and subreddit!